Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Book Review: "The Art Forger"

Maybe it's my fascination with forgeries. Maybe's it's that the book is set in Boston, right near where I lived for several years. I'm sure it's partly both of those things, but I'm also sure that much of why I absolutely loved B. A. Shapiro's debut novel The Art Forger (Algonquin Books, 2012) is that it's just a good book.

Claire Roth, a down-on-her-luck artist stuck doing reproduction work to make ends (sort of) meet, is surprised one day when a high-end Newbury Street gallery owner shows up and asks her to create a copy of a masterpiece to order. But this is not just any masterpiece: he asks Claire to create a copy of a Degas painting which she immediately recognizes as one stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in the famous 1990 heist. Shapiro takes this basic plot and makes an absolutely wonderful tale of it, weaving in layer after layer of deceit, confusion, and historical detective work.

As the story unfolds, we learn more about Claire's checkered past in the art world, delve into the dark underbelly of the art market and explore what might have been behind the Gardner thefts, and also take a flight of fancy back to the days of Mrs. Jack herself.

I had to pace myself a bit so that I didn't zoom through this one all in one go. Shapiro clearly enjoyed the research process, and besides just being a good story, the novel also provides a readable take on just what forgery means and about the power of art and story more generally.

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